There is nothing more rewarding that to reach a moment of culmination – whether it’s completing a short story or a novel, or simply experiencing a moment of true acknowledgment of your work. Last night’s Creative Arts Showcase at Maplewood’s Words Bookstore was one of those culminating moments. I was honored to sit in the front row listening to stories, excerpts and essays I’d heard in countless versions. After our circle worked for weeks and months nurturing and nudging each writer’s efforts along, it was exhilarating to finally witness them presented to the public ear in “finished” form.

But “finished” is in quotations for a reason. If a piece of writing is ever really finished, it can only be because the author has passed beyond. Even I still have, tucked high up on a bookshelf, a copy of The Thrall’s Tale tagged with changes I would make should I ever have the opportunity. As writers we are always hearing something different, seeing something in our work that we hadn’t noticed before. And we are always maturing creatively and personally. Our vision shifts with each moment of life’s breath, until the truth itself has found another form.

So this 1962 essay, When Does Education Stop? by James Michener, seems appropriate. It is written with a focus on college education, but the message reaches further, to the burden of taking on really challenging tasks and accepting the effort they require. The truth is that we are all always learning, that we cease to learn at our peril, and that the breadth and depth of our understanding are critical to the shape our work and our lives will form. Anyone who attempts to write quickly realizes that even a short story or a three page essay can take days, weeks, months to perfect. We all must search within ourselves for that quality of effort and find the stamina to persist toward a goal that may remain forever just another draft away.



  • Sandra

    Thank you for telling me about “Control+”! It’s fabulous being able to make the font bigger so I can luxuriate in your words. I loved the Michener essay so much that I’m printing it out and giving it to my step-daughter who is off to college this fall.
    I’m also going to send a link to this blog post to my cousin, a perfectionist of a poet who is never satisfied that any poem of his is “finished”. This persistence thing is painful but I shall not whine about it lest you run to fetch your crying towel.

  • Judith

    I sympathize with perfectionism, believe me. I’m also blessed with that questionable gift. High standards are the only way we can stretch toward our work’s greatest realization. But that elusive search for perfection can leave really wonderful work languishing in a drawer or notebook or on our computer, forever hidden by our own self-doubt and uncertainty. It’s so difficult to know when enough is enough. Sometimes we over-write, whittling away our brief brush with brilliance until it’s chipped, tarnished and disfigured. Part of the craft is sensing that balance. I’m still working at it, as I know you are, Sandra. I hope your cousin will find some comfort in realizing that, for most of us, a work is never done. We just have to find the strength to let it go.

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